POLITICS

Nova Scotia paramedics draw attention to contract dispute, demand higher pay

06/25/2013 09:07 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - About two dozen paramedics held an information picket in front of the Nova Scotia legislature Tuesday, demanding better pay after turning down a recent contract offer that included a defined benefits pension plan.

Advanced care paramedic Dave Matheson said paramedics in other provinces, such as Ontario, receive comparable wages and benefits to police officers and firefighters.

"Here in Nova Scotia, we're about 30 to 40 per cent behind them," said Matheson, who took part in the information picket in Halifax. "Nova Scotia paramedics are amongst the highest trained ... in all of Canada, and yet are amongst the lowest compensated.

"We're constantly playing a game of catch-up."

The paramedics wore red T-shirts and carried signs bearing their union logo as they walked down Barrington Street to the legislature. A few paramedics in ambulances stopped by to show their support, honking their horns as they passed the legislature.

Local 727 of the International Union of Operating Engineers voted 73 per cent last week against a deal with their employer, Emergency Medical Care Inc. It had been reached with the help of a mediator.

The vote results marked the second time the paramedics rejected a deal recommended by their union, despite the fact the latest deal contained one of their key demands — a defined benefit pension plan. A third contract offer was also turned down.

A defined benefit plan requires an employer to meet set retirement payments based on a formula that factors in an employee's years of service and earnings, as opposed to a less lucrative defined contribution plan.

Matheson said he believes union officials have the best interests of the province's 800 paramedics at heart at the negotiating table, but it's clear most paramedics want more.

"At the end of the day, the majority is the one that makes the final decision and for the last six months ... we, the majority, have felt that maybe what was being brought back to the table is not in our best interest."

The union and Emergency Medical Care have agreed there won't be a legal strike or lockout before July 5.

Emergency Medical Care said it contacted the union last week to say it is willing to meet "wherever, whenever."

"We’re waiting to hear back from them on a date and time," spokeswoman Stacey Brown said in an email.

Matheson said the union is hopeful an agreement can be reached before July 5, adding that members would rather continue to negotiate than solve the matter through arbitration.

Paramedics based in Cape Breton were scheduled to hold a similar rally on Thursday in Sydney, N.S.